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Trip Report 9 Great Days in Milan!

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During my planning phase, many Fodorites were very helpful and encouraging, as always! So, I’ve provided this trip report to let everyone know how it turned out and hopefully help someone thinking about a similar trip. Be forewarned – it may be lengthy!

On web sites and in guidebooks, Milan gets short shrift – along the lines of “no need to spend more than 2 days” or “fly in and take a train right out.” As I started researching, I discovered plenty of museums and sightseeing that intrigued me so I thought that 9 days in Milan would be perfect…and if I ran out of things to do in Milan, there are numerous day trips. I only ended up with one free day (went to Bergamo) so I’m here to refute Milan’s bad rap!

BACKGROUND: I’m a solo traveler and enjoy traveling to Europe in January/February since it’s less crowded and air/hotels are more affordable than the rest of the year. I got a good price on a direct flight from JFK to Milan on Emirates, so it was an easy decision! I’m a Type A person who likes to research trips beforehand and create a daily list of things to do, nearby restaurants, and transportation methods so I used various guidebooks and web sites. Time Out was especially useful.

LODGING: I rented a one bedroom apartment using VRBO which was conveniently located around the corner from the St Ambrogio metro stop. Before I rent an apt, I always roughly figure out where most of the sights I’ll be visiting are located, so that I can stay in that general area (and make sure I’ll be close to public transportation). The apt was wonderful and added to my overall enjoyment of the trip since after a full day of traipsing around, it was great coming home to a comfortable space where I could put my feet up, have a drink and snack, and read.

TRANSPORTATION/PASSES: I debated about whether to buy a weekly pass but upon advice of the landlord, just bought two 10-ride carnets instead. The weekly pass is good from Monday through Sunday, so I would have needed to supplement that for the initial 3 days. I bought the carnets from tobacco kiosks so it was quick and easy (13.80 euros for 10 rides). None of the museum passes appealed to me since they omitted several of the places I wanted to go, and included some places I had no interest in.

FRIDAY, JAN 29, sunny and mid-50’s
Arrived at Milan’s MXP. Walked all over the terminal looking for an ATM/cashpoint but couldn’t find one (I had about 50 euros with me from a prior trip but always like to get more when I arrive). Followed the very clear signage to the Malpensa Express train, bought a ticket from the agent to Cadorna station (not Central, since Cadorna was closer to St Ambrogio). Train was not full, plenty of space for luggage and it took about 30 minutes to Cadorna. This next part was frustrating for me since there were lots of people rushing around and I had initially planned to walk to my apt since it looked like a straight path on my map. But….as often happens, when you come up out of a subway station, it’s hard to figure out which way is which. I did find ATMs, so got cash but was aware of some slightly sketchy guys hanging around. I clearly looked lost and with my luggage and newly acquired cash, just felt a bit concerned. I looked for street signs but couldn’t find them and spotted the metro, so down I went and bought a single ticket from a machine (very easy to use – selected English instructions and it walked me through the process).

As in all European subway stations, the signage is very clear so I hopped on the train for one stop and this time, saw street signs right away when I came out of the metro. My apt was around the corner, so walked there, & met the landlady who showed me around. After brief unpacking, it was only about 2:00, so I decided to walk around the neighborhood & orient myself while searching for a store I had read about, L’Erbolario on Corsa Magenta. Enjoyed the walk and looking at the variety of building styles and peeking into their courtyards. Found L’Erbolario easily and browsed (I had printed info from their website for a number of items); bought great perfume “Maharees” and an anti-aging cream. Very nice sales clerk gave me a number of samples of other lotions.

I walked back a slightly different way and passed a neat little park with beat up (e.g. armless and mossy) classical statues in brick niches. I love running across antiquity. This was a back street but I felt like it was heading in the right direction and lo and behold, I walked past a Catholic University and then San Ambrogio church was right there! Warm, rosy brick tones, archways and archeological finds plastered into the outer walls. There was a service going on in the church, so I just sat and listened. Will have to come back again to really explore the church.

On the way back to the apt (which was literally, 3 minutes away), I decided to try to find some of the bakeries I had read about and buy some provisions too. There’s a PAM supermarket across from the metro stop so bought soda, yogurt (Hazelnut) and cheese. Followed the map and eventually found Visconti and Cucchi but both were far too fancy for me. (They sold elegant, luscious looking full sized cakes and tortes but I wanted single servings.) Left and realized that I was all turned around and way off course. Got myself back on the right path and passed a “regular” bakery on a side street where I spotted good looking pizza breads through the window. Bought a corner piece with ham and a very walnutty bread stick. Just what I wanted – guess my tastes are for these local joints! Trudged home, heated up the pizza and watched Italian TV (cooking show).

SATURDAY, 1/30, rainy, cloudy, mid-50’s

Woke up to the sound of rain drops on the skylight and roof! (love that sound). Had a yogurt and headed out to the Via le Papiniano street market. I had read about this and the landlady recommended it, so why not? I LOVED it!! In New York City, street markets have become a joke – filled with the same vendors of tube socks, outdated make up, and cheap quality items. Steady rain didn’t stop me or the other shoppers! Bought 3 silk scarves that I swear are genuine (15 euros each); a wool black & purple scarf for 4 euros; a black/grey shawl for 4 euros; 4 kitchen towels for 2 euros each (these are the best kind of souvenir since I’ll use them and think of my trip); a soft black, zipfront cardigan for 10 euros; pillow cover for 2 euros; and undies. Why did I love this so much? Because I was the only tourist there; the stall keepers didn’t speak much (or any) English but we communicated just fine; good natured vibe; I felt like I got some great stuff and didn’t pay much; and it felt like a real, local experience. One of the guidebooks had said the way to find the best stuff at street markets is to go where the well-dressed women are and I think that was good advice! That’s how I found the 4 euro shawls. Spent 2 ½ hours there and was weighed down, so decided to drop my bags off at the apt. Walked up Corso Porta Genova and spotted a great bakery where I bought cookies, pastry and pizza. The clerk spoke some English and I pointed and held up my fingers and that worked fine.

After leaving everything in the apt, I took bus 94 (which would become my bus of choice since it goes in a semi circle around the eastern part of the old city and shopping streets and stopped right around the corner from me.) My destination was Villa Necchi Campiglio – an estate from the 1930’s built by a well known architect and decorated in the style of the era. (It was used for a Tilda Swinton move “I am Love” – hated the movie but remembered scenes of the house.)

Got there at 1:15 – on a side street, and garden/grounds are green and slightly eerie since it’s grey and rainy. From the sidewalk entrance, follow a narrow white gravel path along a tall brick wall, past the swimming pool and mossy statutes to the restaurant where I decided to have lunch (recommended by landlady). Very nice – it’s in a glass building but not like an old-fashioned conservatory with multiple panes of glass; instead, this was large sheets of glass for the ceiling and walls, looking onto the garden and hedges. It was still raining, so being in this warm, glass box surrounded by greenery and rain was unique – like a water cave. For my first real meal in Milan, I decided on risotto Milanese; very good, creamy and with a slight crunch to the rice. With water and diet soda, it was 22 euros. (I don’t drink so diet soda is my vice – I know it’s expensive but don’t care.) I was quite content with the cost. Most of the tables were filled and I was entertained by one table of a London wedding planner, the bride, groom and groom’s brother, plus the restaurant manager who were testing various wines and foods for their wedding reception. Bottle after bottle arrived, and beautifully arranged appetizers, desserts - how elegant that would be (and expensive!)

Went over to the museum and found out that entrance is only via a guided tour and that the next English tour was in 45 minutes at 3:30. So…what to do? Decided to walk over to my next objective for the day, Madina. Madina is a make up store, which the Italian Vogue and various bloggers raved about. Apparently, they carry very unique items well before they are available in other make up lines. I love make up so it was on my list, and turns out it was on Corso Venezia, just around the corner. It’s a small store (not like Sephora which is huge) and, best of all, the January sales were one so many, many items were half price!! They were inexpensive to begin with (at least compared to MAC, Nars, etc.) and half price – wowie! I had printed a list of items from the Vogue article but found much more to buy – eye shadows for 2.90 euros (they would be $14 at MAC). The clerks were very nice and spoke enough English to answer the few questions that I had; in 30 minutes, I bought 27 items and was back at Villa Necchi in time for the tour.

Really liked Villa Necchi; tour took about 45 minutes; while it was decorated very much in the ‘30’s style, there were a lot of homey touches including family photos, so it was easy to picture the family living here. I would have bought the guide book but they didn’t have an English version. If you like seeing how people lived, it’s worth visiting this museum (or, just having lunch there.)

Took bus 94 back to apt – thought I had it all figured out until the bus ride seemed too long, then everyone got off and then the bus driver turned the bus off. Turns out the bus ends at Porta Volta and sits there for 15+ minutes. So, I asked the driver “Sant’ Ambrogio?” and he pointed me to the bus next door and told me to “voce a Sant Ambrogio”, so after a scenic ride I got back to the apt and had the pizza I bought that morning for dinner, along with some cookies and pastries.

Tomorrow... Naviglio Antique Market, shopping & Boschi de Stefano

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    Thank you for all the encouraging words! Here are the next two days...

    SUNDAY, 1/31, sunny, mid-50’s

    Today’s mission was the monthly Naviglio Grande Antiques Market; not that I planned to buy any antiques, but this neighborhood sounded interesting since it’s along a canal and is being gentrified. Plus, what a nice way to spend a Sunday morning! Metro was just a few stops and as I exited the Metro station, couldn’t miss the market, since it began across the street! I was expecting flea market type items and possibly bargains, but this was overall a high end market with good quality items. (My mother used to be an antique dealer so I have some knowledge.) Many stalls with vintage purses – Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, etc and furs. Art also – oil paintings (19th and 20th c.), sculptures; a lot of Bakelite jewelry; and other stuff! (Although stuff sounds too junky!) That street ended at the canal, where the stalls went on and on – on both sides of the canal and down another side street that headed back toward the Metro. The canal side stalls were more crowded and I would say the better quality items were here (not that the side streets were junk marts). A few of the cafes were open and people were having their coffee in the winter sun, watching the parade of people…and it was a parade! Lots of people strolling along, not necessarily stopping into the stalls. These were “just folks”, who were very fashionably dressed (not all, but probably half of them). More than the standard Italian chic of a scarf and leather shoes for the women – I saw red high top boots with leggings and a red checkerboard sweater and a red/black hat; fur jacket, leather pants and boots; elegant suits – on the men and women. Lots of hats – men and women (real hats – not wool or fleece beanies). And, most notably for me, a man in a swirling wool cape with a burgundy fedora tilted just so, and polished cordovan shoes.

    After two hours, I was ready to leave and headed off to Corso Buenos Aires for shopping. I don’t think of myself as a shopper since clothing shopping isn’t much fun but I did want to check the dept stores to see if I could find some knock-off Milanese style on sale. I’d forgotten how crowded the main shopping streets can get, plus, so many people in Milan smoke as they’re walking on the street so I wasn’t in the best mood for shopping. OVS – a mid-range store and the sales were great (50 to 70% off items) but I guess I wasn’t in the mood since nothing appealed to me. UPIM – a lower-range store, maybe equivalent to a Target or Monoprix, great sales especially on home goods but I didn’t need them. Ended up buying a fun little mesh necklace for 2.25 euros. Spotted another makeup store, Kiko, having sales so zipped in and bought 3 or 4 more eyeshadows on sale. (Think I’m nuts to buy so much make up, but what the heck, they’re inexpensive, pack easily and I can toss out all the stuff I’ve been using and pizazz up.)

    All these hours on my feet and I was ready for lunch, so went to Delicatessen restaurant on Via Tunisia. Cuisine was northern Italian/Tyrolian and the décor was elegant rustic (rough hewn wood walls, hay on ceiling but linen tablecloths). I sat in the front room (not the bar) and the long room in the back filled up quickly with families, couples, etc. The room I was in had a real fire in the fireplace and the three tables in front of the fire were filled up – must have been quite warm at those! I ordered goulash and Tyrolian polenta which was OK; the meat in the goulash was pretty tough (although the few tender pieces were great) and the polenta was gritty and not much corn flavor. However, the bread basket made up for the so-so main course: it had a pretzel, several pepita covered rolls, walnutty rolls, good country bread and maybe a bread stick. So good. With bottle of water and diet soda, it was 29 euros. Not great food but a nice ambience; I would go back again and try something different.

    Turns out that Delicatessen has two or three outposts that aren’t sit down restaurants – just bakery and sandwiches. I walked past one and bought apple strudel, gingerbread cookies and chocolate salami (sort of chocolate paste with nuggets of nuts, formed into a log and sliced… ala salami).

    Now that I was rested and fed, I walked to the Boschi Di Stefano museum (got slightly lost en route). This is another museum that was a family’s apartment (husband & wife artists) who collected 20th century Italian art. The museum is on the 2nd floor, no entrance charge and very friendly docents in each room (some spoke English and some didn’t). The physical apartment was interesting – parquet floors, ornately shaped doorways, windows & porches, and amazing Murano glass chandeliers in each room – each one different but elegant (including one that looked like Sputnik). The paintings didn’t grab me and I can’t imagine living surrounded by wall to wall art (and many were fairly gloomy) but I enjoyed seeing the apartment and being exposed to a genre of art that I wasn’t aware of. I noticed a bunch of older men playing bocce in a nearby park, so went over to watch. Sat on a bench, minding my business, when one of the spectators (another 75+ man) came over to the bench, introduced himself (Dino), shook hands and tried to have a conversation but I have no Italian and he had very little English. We established that I’m a tourist; he said something about an auto and I said “Oh, I take the Metro – it’s very easy” and he laughed and laughed. He then pulled his car keys out of his pocket, jangled them and said “if you want a ride in my macciano, call Dino”. I did my smile, laugh and no, no routine and he walked away. So, on one hand, how funny that the charming Italian tried to pick me up but on the other hand, I must look pretty bad if he thought he had a chance with me!! A good story.

    Since Via Malpighi was fairly close, I walked over to look at the Liberty (aka Art Nouveau) buildings. It’s a short street but some ornately decorated buildings with an gelaterio “Out of the Box” on the corner, so I had a tasty chocolate w/espresso and choc chunks. That was better than the street. I think there are many buildings in Milan that incorporate elements of Liberty décor – maybe fancy statues holding up balconies, or palm fronds in iron grates or doorway décor. I like walking along, looking up and spotting these little things.

    Walked to the Essalunga supermarket on Via Papiniano (landlady had mentioned that they have good quality prepared dinners), which was mobbed on this late Sunday afternoon. I bought sliced ham and cheese at the deli counter, bread and some other stuff and made my way back to the apt.

    The landlady invited me to her apt for apertivo that night – Prosecco and snacks (delicate little cheese puffs, sliced cheese & apples & nuts). Nice to chat with she and her husband – both spoke impeccable English. Interestingly, they described Milan’s appearance as austere and sober. Even after just two days, I knew I disagreed so we discussed different cities and their ambience. After several glasses of Prosecco and an hour of chatting, we said good night and I went upstairs to my apt. The only flaw in the apt was that the TV didn’t get any English channels – not even BBC or CNN. So, every night I watched a cooking competition since that’s easy to follow no matter what language and the Zelig variety show since comedy and singing are no-language required (also, an Italian version of American Idol with singers & dancers – lots of poofy haired, pouty boys).

    MONDAY, 2/1, Sunny/cloudy, upper 40’s

    Today was Duomo day (I wanted to avoid the weekend since I figured it would be very crowded). Metro to the huge square at 9:30 am – lots of clumps of people but no-one in the ticket line. Bought the combo ticket w/elevator to the roof, which included entrance to the separate Museo Duomo. Normally, I like wandering around churches looking at the architecture, statuary, etc. but the Duomo didn’t grab me. It just felt really big, the columns seemed oversized and so many areas were blocked off w/pews that it was difficult to wander at will. Plus, the audio guide (5 euro) didn’t work well. I liked Notre Dame, Venice basilica, Hagia Sophia so it wasn’t the size that I dis-liked…not sure what it was but the roof redeemed it!

    A guidebook referred to the roof as a “forest of spires” and it really was. Wow – amazing that the entire roof is open instead of just a proscribed route. Buttresses, corbels, spires, statues and gargoyles galore – to see these up close and at eye level was spectacular. Loved reading that the Duomo is never really finished since they’re continually maintaining/fixing the structure. From the largest roof area, could see the Alps (or pre-Alps, as my landlady calls them) with snow on the peaks.

    Time for lunch and had read about the top floor restaurants at La Rinascente dept store with spectacular views of the Duomo roof, so crossed the plaza to La Rin. This is a fancy department store so didn’t even bother looking at any clothing, just took the elevator to the top. They have several restaurants but I wanted to sit and look at the Duomo, but it was too cold for me to eat outside (although several people did), so I ate at Obika, seated on a banquette facing the Duomo. Their speciality is mozzerella but the pappardelle with wild fennel sausage was calling my name. It was quite tasty and I had fun people watching as the restaurant filled up. With bottle of water and soda, it was 30 euros. Expensive but I didn’t care since my dinners are sandwiches/pizza in my apt. It’s worth it to have a break in the middle of a day full of sightseeing and being on my feet, not to mention treating myself.

    Now that I was rested and warm, I walked across the square to the Museo Duomo which was included in my Duomo ticket. I loved this! It’s full of statutes and stone works that were on the Duomo but had to be removed (due to poor condition). Many rooms full of items, all labeled, and I marveled at the details in the faces, clothing, etc. You could see the little mice and monkeys carved onto a spire since they were at eye level instead of way up on the roof. I spent about 90 minutes here quite happily.

    Then, I walked next door to Piazza Reale museum to see the Alfonse Mucha exhibit. Mucha is Mr. Art Nouveau who pioneered the use of the airy looking women with twirling, long locks and diaphanous dresses in advertising posters. He did many Sarah Bernhardt posters too. Excellent audio guide. Fair number of art students there, plus other folks. Worth seeing if you have an interest.

    Had planned on rounding out my museum day by going to the Novocentre since it’s right there but it was getting late and too close to their closing time. So, walk a bit; stop into a Desigual store since I love the look of their clothes but nothing ever fits me….although, I spotted a huge colorful shawl that I snapped up for 17 euros. Then, walked past a Delicatessen branch and Galli bakery, so bought some dinner stuff and pastries. Stopped in an actual thrift store, Humana Vintage since I like Fretex, Goodwill, etc. Hmmmm – this smelled like a thrift shop, old clothing w/stale sweat. I was turned off but thumbed through the coats – most of them were 30+ years old. Not interesting to me, and it had been a very full day, so took the Metro home and made a tasty sandwich for dinner with sweets for dessert (and more Italian TV).

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    The Palazzo Reale hosts some wonderful art shows, sometimes three at a time. We once saw a really wonderful Chagall show there, as well as two other shows the same day. I believe one was Van Gogh's early works, but that may have been a different time.

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    TUESDAY, 2/2, Cloudy, mid-40’s

    Another street market today on Via Fauche and Via Losana. This had more food than the Via Papiniano market – cheesemonger, fruits & veg, salumerie but no breads or baked items. In general, I think the quality of the clothing was lower here than at the Papiniano market; although I did buy a pair of green suede pumps for 10 euro and a pinkish sweater for 25 euro (I think that was too much but OK) and a few other small items. Again, heard no English so I was the only tourist which I liked; spent almost 3 hours and was very tired so walked to the tram stop and sat in a very plain, no frills café for a soda & cookie while I pondered what to do next.

    Since I wanted to go to Novo Centre museum, I decided to try the restaurant in the Piazza Reale for lunch and if that didn’t work, there was always the pappardelle w/wild fennel sausage at La Rinascente. The Piazza Reale restaurant was old fashioned which I like but was crowded and seemed more cake/snacks than a meal….so, across the square to La Rinascente, up the elevator for an exact repeat of the prior day’s meal. I was feeling fancy, so decided to have a glass of Prosecco. Tasty, but I don’t drink much and that glass wiped me out! (As in, felt clouded and sluggish). Lunch was as good as expected, so walked back across the square to Novo Centre but upon thumbing through the museum guide, realized that it was too contemporary for my taste so left.

    One of the churches I wanted to visit was Chiesa di San Bernardino alle Ossa which is in the general vicinity, or so I thought. That began a 2 hour lost trek where I went in the wrong direction (more than once), in circles, etc. My phone’s battery was so low I couldn’t use it’s walking directions and was getting very cranky. I finally trudged to Sforza and got bus 94; back at the apt I had a hot shower, toast and then a sandwich and desserts. Much better then.

    I’ve learned that on all my trips, I reach a point about mid-way where nothing seems appealing and I just need a down day where I don’t do much. Sometimes it’s best to give in and start fresh the next day.

    WEDNESDAY, 2/3, Drizzle/rain,upper-40’s

    I was determined to go to the Ossuary today so took the tram and it was right across from the tram stop! (I think I walked past it yesterday in my fog/annoyance.) The church itself is small, very baroque décor with huge pillars and ornate chapels. The ossuary is off to the right of the entry (there's a sign). Although there's some natural light from a window, it was very dark and hard to make out anything. However, I'd noticed a custodian in the church so I found him in his office (to the right of the entry) and asked if he could turn on the lights. He didn't speak English, but I gestured at his lights and he understood. He led me into the ossuary, pointed me to the offering box and opened a side door; I left some euros in the box and lo and behold, very bright lights in all the corners came on. I'm intrigued by ossuaries and not disturbed (although I know some people find them distasteful). I appreciated the designs that had been created, the stacking of items and the overall look. I read somewhere that the bones weren't from a cemetery, or parishioners who had died, but instead were provided by the hospital next door!

    I’d read about some designer outlets in Milan, so walked over to DT Trend which is an outlet for the MaxMara and Maria Rinaldi lines. This outlet was not like Marshalls or TJ Maxx! The store was elegant, as were the sales staff; not a sale sign in site and prices were much higher than I expected (e.g. down coats for 500-655 euros); I believe that these were discounted prices, it’s just that the original price was very high. Not for me.

    On posters around town, I saw ads for a Belle Epoque exhibit at the GAM (Gallery of Modern Art) so stopped by. The Belle Epoque exhibit wasn’t there and the staff didn’t speak English so I don’t know what happened to it, but for 5 euros I saw their exhibit on the 1920’s sculptor Alfred Wildt. Interesting, modern take on facial expressions and the museum had huge windows overlooking the public gardens, so I watched the ducks and people there for a while. It was worth 5 euros to see a new artist (new to me).

    Next stop was lunch and I had researched restaurants near the Bagetti Valsecchi Museum, since that was my afternoon objective. On my way to the restaurant, Bice, I passed another outlet store, D Magazine, right on Via Manzoni (across from the Grand Hotel) and since I was there, why not? Wow !! This is a long, narrow store filled with a lot of merchandise. I realized very quickly that it was out of my price range (and style) but was super intrigued by seeing items from designers that I've only read about. Watanabe, Vivienne Westwood, Ferragamo, etc. It was clear that these truly were items from the designers, perhaps last year's collection, so while they were marked down a lot, they were still expensive. (It all depends on your budget and what you're looking for.) Toward the back, they had a lot of shoes which was a busy section. But, there were also two cases filled with a jumble of jewelry and odds and ends. I spotted a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer style sunglasses w/pink frames. I needed a new pair of sunglasses, I like Wayfarers and pink, and lo and behold, they had Zeiss lenses and were only 55 euros - and weren't scratched. So, I snapped them up and was quite happy. (Brand was RetroSuperFuture and apparently they're very in right now. Seem to retail for around $200, so I'm happy with my foray into designer outlet shopping.)

    Got to Bice and immediately knew this would be a great experience! Small and elegant (not stuffy, but fine dining.) After checking my coat & bag, I was seated in the front room. White linen tablecloth, silver accoutrements and understated but warm décor. Fireplace (unused), paintings of country scenes on the wall, tartan (!) carpet; long back room. I didn’t have a reservation but that was no problem; although the restaurant filled up quickly.

    I ordered what I thought was veal cutlet but when it arrived, it was on the bone, but pounded super thin and the breading was light and buttery. Yum, yum. Maybe the style of leaving it on the bone shows that it really veal and not some mystery meat. I don’t think I’ve ever had a veal cutlet that light and tasty. I had ordered my bottle of water and soda, which was served in a fine, tulip shaped glass and made me feel very elegant with my plebian soda. The whole experience was warm, sophisticated and such a good feeling – I felt like I was getting to experience something that only “in the know” locals know about…whether that’s true or not, it was a great feeling. In fact, it was so nice that I didn’t the meal to end, so decided to have dessert – a slice of warm apple tarte with a shortbread crust (so good) and, instead of blah vanilla ice cream, I asked for chocolate ice cream. Yowza, was that good!! The whole meal was 47 euro but so worth it for the food and the ambience and the feeling of well being.

    I walked two blocks to the Bagetti Valsecchi Museum (across from the Four Seasons hotel) which was a gem! Another family home that was built and decorated in the early 20th century but in the Renaissance style. The audio guide was included and each of the rooms contained various language guides to that room and it’s contents which were great; I sat in the guard’s chair and read all the details, walking around each room to see and understand each item. Fascinating to imagine the two brothers, who design the house, one gets married and he & his wife and their children live there, along with the brother who has his own rooms. Designed a la antiquity but had electricity, heat, running water and elevator. As with the other two house museums, just think of living in such a place! At one point, as I was reading a room guide, the sky opened and it poured rain – the rain drummed on the metal cupola roof over my head! I love that sound and the guard and I exchanged a few sentences about the rain and the sound.

    Time to go home so I think I have bus 94 all figured out but yet again I get on the one going to the depot so go through the get off this bus, onto new bus, and wait 15 minutes process. Can’t believe that I keep doing this. Oh well, at least I’m not in a hurry. Sandwich and dessert for dinner.

    Next....Cemetery, leathers, Grand lunch, frescos...

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    THURSDAY, 2/4, sunny, mid-50’s

    A beautiful day for wandering around a cemetery! The Cimitero Monumentale is north west of the old part of the city and easily accessible by metro (as an aside, I had downloaded the pone app for ATM – the Milan transportation group but had forgotten about it and spent time each evening poring over my maps, figuring out how to get to/from the next day’s destinations. I remembered the app and it was very easy to use and gave me great routing to the cemetery via tram and metro. Should have been using it all week!)
    The entrance is truly monumental but the visitor’s office is to the left (the restrooms are directly across the plaza). I picked up the map but decided to just wander and see what appealed to me, instead of looking for the items they highlighted (I ended seeing most of them anyway). Begun in latter half of the 19th century and still used, it's a great show of Victorian, art nouveau, WWI, WWII, and post-war art and mores. Upon entering, you see acres of statues and monuments. (Not like New England boring cemeteries at all!) To me, a lot of the statues looked like works of art that could have been in museums. Loved finding the unusual monuments - like the one for a man who had been a mountain climber and his monument included a climbing rope & pick axe; or the one complete with Alps, pine trees & a bird. Then there's the young woman from the '40's, with chin length hair, knee-length dress, standing with her finger holding her place in her book. Or the baker whose marker featured a baker, with a long paddle pushing bread into an oven. Not to mention the mausoleum with the circular tower of figures. And, the war graves; among many, the architect who died in Austria and when I googled the location name, it was a concentration camp. Or the man who was awarded a Medal of Heroism and died on the Albanian front. All of these bring history to life. Overall, this cemetery felt warm, friendly and welcoming to me (as opposed to Pere LaChaise in Paris that felt cold and depressing). Tall, swoopy pine trees, landscaping that was planned but not formal, well maintained paths, employees doing maintenance and lots of water faucets for visitors to water the flowers at graves they’re visiting. I spent almost 3 hours wandering around.

    It was time to think about lunch and I wanted to look for a leather passport cover and wallet so decided to go to Coccinelle’s store on Via Bigli. They’re a nice line of leather items, but lower priced then Furla. Their sale items were on the 2nd floor and I found a nice burgundy passport case for 28 euros; none of the sale wallets appealed to me, so back downstairs where the clerk showed me lots of options (unlike US, they don’t display all their wares, instead, you explain what you want and they show you possibilities). I settled on a bright orange zip wallet that was about 100 euros – a very fair price I thought. They tend to have very bright colors which I like.

    Now, where to eat? Lo and behold, the Grand Hotel was across the street and I do love a luxury hotel (plus, I read that during fashion weeks, that’s where all the in people stay and I wanted to feel in). So elegant, doorman ushered me into the lobby and I told the front desk that I’d like to have lunch, so he escorted me to two options: Caruso’s (a café) or Jerry’s Bar. The bar appealed to me much more: a grand room, with high, vaulted ceiling, orange and burgundy velvet sofas & chairs, wall mirrors and drapes and a large, Erte-like statue. One couple was having tea but lunch was no problem. The bar manager was quite professional and obviously proud of his role (he had a young minion at the bar who spent the whole time folding linen napkins). The coffee table in front of my sofa grouping was too low for lunch, so he whisked out a custom-made wooden topper that raised the height 4” or so, fluffed a linen tablecloth on it and then gave me the menu. Of course, I had a diet soda which was presented on a silver tray and another silver tray with 4 little silver bowls (and spoons) for snacks: almonds, potato chips, some other crispy things and taralli. Such a nice way to live! I had spaghetti cacio e pepe (cheese & black pepper). I have to admit, it was a bit glooey so didn’t live up to the ambience or the promise of the soda/snacks; but no matter, it was still an elegant lunch. Dessert didn’t appeal so walked around a bit. Via Bigli, Montenapoleon, etc are the apex of the fashion center, with store after store of the highest end clothing, plus jewelry and shoes. It was most interesting watching the people going into the stores and window shopping – very fashion forward (but not tacky, lame’ leopardskin types.)

    Walked back to Madina to buy the rest of the eye liners that I hadn’t bought when I was there before – only 2 euros each, so why not?? The clerk remembered me so we had a nice chat.

    Bus to San Maurizio Maggiore Monastery and stopped at Val Best bakery to buy a piece of gorgonzola and walnut pizza – mmmm, mmmm – how good does that sound?!! Also stopped at Pasticceria Marchesi (their original, 1824 store). Despite not speaking English, I bought a box of assorted chocolates, some chocolate-covered orange peels and a slice of their special panetonne. Lots of pointing, trying out words but we figured it out just fine. Now, on to the church – wow! All the guidebooks weren’t kidding about the frescos and the bland exterior hiding a vibrant interior. Small (just the front room and the room behind the partition), no charge to enter; the Bank of Milan financed the renovation of the frescos, so the colors are bright and vivid. Definitely worth seeing. Gilt, paintings, frescos - so much to see with good explanatory guide in English. Loved the Noah's ark frescos - the deluge, the animals going two by two into the ark (fiercesome expression on the lions) and then Noah's drunkeness. There was an Italian school group there so when they went into the nun's section, I went into the front room and vice versa, but because they were there, someone turned on a recording of church singing (like Gregorian chants, but women) which added to the atmosphere. I spent about 45 minutes but many people were in and out in 15-20 mins. I like looking at the pieces up close and seeing the small details and then sitting down to absorb the overall sense.

    On the way back to the apt, walked into Sant Ambrogio – it was dusk-ish and dim inside; very atmospheric but again, not a good time for sightseeing! So I sat and absorbed; after about 5 minutes, all the lights came on and people started arriving, priests went into the confessional booths and it was business as usual. So, back to the apt and my gorgonzola walnut pizza.

    Taking a day trip to Bergamo tomorrow but a few thoughts occurred to me:

    - By now, I feel like I have a good sense of the physical city – the layout and where things are and how to get there.
    - I’m really liking my new approach of having nice lunches each day. In all my travels, I’ve never done this before; I usually stop at whatever café or quick food spot I’m walking past. For some reason, I researched restaurants in the general area of where I planned to spend each day (actually, it probably the combined ease of use of Google and TripAdvisor that made it so easy to locate & look up restaurants). After a full morning of walking around, I’m ready to sit and relax before the next destination and I very much appreciate the niceties of fine dining (which is less costly than dinner), so it worked out very well.
    - Realized that I have too many desserts/sweets, so don’t need to buy more each day!
    - And, having a slower start in the morning is nice too. I eat my yogurt, have some soda and watch the sun/clouds before starting the day. Usually, I’ve been a get up and go person, but this is vacation and I have plenty of time here so it’s not like I have to see everything in one day!

    FRIDAY, 2/5, sunny, mid-50’s

    Walked over to Sant Ambrogio to hear the bells peal the hour and take a photo of the robed skeletons in the crypt. Also, looked at all the chapels and items I hadn’t been able to see before. I like this church; Romanesque style but not too bare; warm brick tones and very much in use by the locals which is great to see.

    Metro to Central train station for train to Bergamo. Boy, that’s a confusing train station! Huge, multi-levels, lots of stores and hurrying people. But, good signage so I found the ticket area, went to the “info desk” and was sent to the last empty lane to buy my ticket. Never hurts to ask, rather than join a long line. Have to go through a mini-security gate before boarding trains (bought great Pernigotti chocolates from their kiosk near the boarding area – 3 layers of creamy hazelnut and chocolate). Train was mostly empty and 45 minutes later, arrived in Bergamo. The tourist office is diagonally across from the train station, so I got a map and asked about buses to the upper town (the funicular was being repaired so was out of commission). Bus 1A stopped just outside the tourist office and goes to the top – about 7 minutes.

    Wandered around the narrow little streets. For a Friday in January, there were a fair number of people aside from the university students who live there; saw a group of priests in long robes w/cameras who were sightseeing. Stuck to the back streets and liked looking up at the houses, higglety-pigglety leaning over the alleys; stray classical statues in parking lots and views into courtyards overlooking the valley. One of the guide books had mentioned that the café at the funicular was old, great views and decent food so when I found myself there, I went in. Wooden beams on the ceiling, huge windows overlooking the valley and comfy, well worn chairs so I settled down for a rest. Relatively small menu, no English spoken but I knew fungi meant mushrooms and she knew vege-tables, so we communicated fine. I ordered pasta tubes with rabbit ragout, so I was expecting penne or ziti with a red meat sauce, but instead got 4 fat tubes on end (about 2’ high) filled with a white meat filling. And I think a bit of watery sauce. As always, a good bread basket with salty breadsticks. It tasted better than it sounds and all part of the travel experience. Again, happy to rest my feet and people watch the other patrons.

    Walked back through town to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore– wow! That’s one ornate, overdone baroque spot. Looked at the wall tapestries and stalked the group of tourist priests (I was very intrigued by the idea of priests on vacation, and they were so young, I wanted to see what they were interested in.) Felt like a heathen when I took a selfie with a group of statues. I think this place made me feel looney!

    Popped into the Duomo next door but was tired and ready to leave. So, bus #1 to station and got the 5:02 to Milan Centrale. At the Milan station, I discovered a big supermarket on the lower level (followed the signs saying “supermarket”) and bought stuff for dinner.

    Tomorrow...MUDEC, Barbies, packing

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    I think your bone-in veal was a "costoletta alla Milanese", which should always have the bone, because "costola" means "rib", so a "costoletta" is a little rib.

    The museum next to the Palazzo Reale is the Museo del Novecento, which means "Museum of the 20th century", so I'm not surprised that it was very modern.

    I've been told by friends who live in Milan that I really must see the Cimetero Monumentale, but so far we haven't got around to it.

    I'm really enjoying your report, and I've got some ideas for a future visit.

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    bvlenci - you're exactly right, it was a costoletta ala Milanese! I think I thought it meant cutlet, but your explanation makes it clear.

    Glad people are finding my report useful for trip planning - not sure why Milan doesn't get much appreciation in guide books since I definitely found plenty to do.

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    Did you see the Brera Gallery, Vickie? Or am I jumping ahead?

    We've been to Milan three times, plus a few times we've stopped there on the way to the airport. Altogether, we've spent about two and a half weeks there, I would guess, and there are still lots of new things I'd like to see.

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    level (followed the signs saying “supermarket”) and bought stuff for dinner.

    SATURDAY, 2/6, cloudy and upper-40’s

    Today’s main mission was the MUDEC (Museum of Culture), located southwest of the central area, near the Naviglio area. The had two exhibitions that sounded appealing: Barbie…The Icon and Gaugin, Tales from Paradise. Metro to Porta Genova; stopped into pharmacy for sinus meds and asked directions to MUDEC. Directed to walk over the iron bridge, turn left and keep going. The iron bridge was interesting since it was covered with street art/graffiti and adorned with brightly painted pairs of jeans, suspended from light poles or overhead beams. Heard great music, horns, playing as I crossed the bridge so descending the bridge stairs, saw three guys carrying and playing their instruments outside a café and walking along. Not sure what it was about, but catchy music and certainly caught the attention of the other pedestrians since they were all looking and wondering to each other.

    Walking down Via Tortona, the street isn’t terribly attractive; this is an area of former warehouses and industrial buildings that are being repurposed. Saw an interesting plaque at a traffic circle that explained the process and walked past some quite modern buildings. MUDEC is a large building that had crowds of young girls, old girls, and families in the lobby. Struck me as expensive: 10 euros for ticket to Barbie exhibit and 10 euros for Gaugin exhibit, the audio guide wasn’t available in English for Barbie (additional 5 euros) and wasn’t going to pay another 5 euros for the Gaugin audio guide. So, 20 euros in total. Hmmph.

    The Barbie exhibit was well done – 400+ dolls, from the first to the most recent; good labelling (Italian and English) so no need for the audio guide. The most fun was seeing grown women in their 50’s excitedly spotting “their” Barbie and taking photos of it. I did it too. Had no idea that so many special editions of Barbie as celebrities had been created. They tried to spin it as Barbie was an independent, working women and represented all ethnicities but I’m not convinced! The dolls were in one huge room, set up chronologically and the system was well designed so that it didn’t feel crowded. A smaller room had Barbie houses, cars, etc and that was too busy for me, plus I hadn’t had any of those so just walked through. The exhibit ended in the shop which was doing a grand business.

    The Gaugin exhibit left me cold – I was expecting to see several of his tropical paintings but it was a smallish space, crowded with art tours and difficult to see the items. I was getting cranky so left and wandered through their permanent collections. Interesting to see natural “oddities” accumulated by a 17th century collector, Asian textiles & armor, and other odds & ends.

    Thought about having lunch in their 1st floor café but it was echoing and noisy, and didn’t seem restful at all. I had passed a restaurant Da Binario at the head of Via Tortona, so re-traced my steps. It was an old restaurant, appealing interior and filled up quickly w/locals. Had a veal cutlet with emmenthaler and ham on top – it was so-so, worlds away from the Bice cutlet!

    Since I hadn’t been to the Brera area, I took the Metro to Lanza and walked around. I tried to stick with the smaller, narrow streets and looked at the buildings and various galleries, cafés, shops. Went past the museum but just had no energy or initiative to go in…just went back to the apt. Since I’d bought so much, I was worried about the packing and more importantly, how to lug my suitcase up/down metro stairs esp at Sant Ambrogio. I always bring a sturdy, canvas, zippered tote bag for overflow items, so was able to get everything into the tote bag and my suitcase (had to use the expanding zipper on the suitcase, so it became top heavy and wouldn’t stand up without leaning on something). Landlady came up to say goodbye and I asked her about hiring a car service to the airport, due to my luggage and stairs concerns. She said it would be very expensive and offered to drive me to the Cadorna station the next morning; I protested that it would be inconvenient for her, but she insisted (and said her husband would come too to help me get onto the train). Extremely kind of them and relieved my mind tremendously.

    SUNDAY, 2/7, pouring rain

    My flight didn’t leave until 3:30, so I wanted to spend the morning seeing more of Milan. Borrowed umbrella and off I went. Stopped into Saint Ambrogio church where a service was ending; walked down Via Vittore and spotted the very bare, plain entrance of Basilica di San Vittore al Corpo so decided to check it out – wow! Very ornate interior, but not overdone – lots of gilt and painted ceiling. I wish I had gone earlier in the week when I could really explore it since tourists are not allowed during services. Kept walking in this very residential area, looking at buildings, peeking through to courtyards, nodding to the few dogwalkers; then, I turned a corner and wafting toward me was the wonderful smell of sugar and butter. A café! A warm respite from the rain…I had two lemony fried dough things dusted with granulated sugar – light as air, not greasy, melted in my mouth. Never had anything like them. A perfect moment – out of the grey buildings and rain, a beckoning aroma that was surpassed by the actual taste…

    Got myself slightly turned around but saw bus 94 approaching and I had one ride left on my carnet – karma! Back at the apt, loaded my bags in the car and off we went. It took no more than 7 minutes (no traffic) to reach a special entrance at Cadorna that’s only for the Malpensa Express – a big sign. They had ticket machines which I was all set to use but an official was there to walk me through the process and he allowed the husband to accompany me to the train. These trains were flush with the sidewalk, so there wasn’t a large step UP into the train and I just wheeled my suitcase right on and into the luggage area. Shook hands w/husband and off he went and I settled onto the train. At airport, had a while to wait so got something to eat and read.

    Overall thoughts: This was a great trip and better than I expected (based on the lack of respect for Milan as a tourist destination!). All my research definitely paid off and I feel as though I’ve really seen Milan. Although I accomplished a lot, the pace was relaxed. The apartment was a huge plus and cost saver; it was comfortable, serene and spacious. I could actually picture myself living in that apt permanently.

    Some miscellaneous observations:

    People always ask me about the language: I don’t speak Italian but that wasn’t an obstacle. In places where they see more tourists such as restaurants and shops, someone always spoke decent English. If the person serving me didn’t, they would find the person who did. On the buses, trams, metro, none of the drivers spoke English but, again, not a problem since they recognized the name of the place I was trying to get to and could convey how many stops, which direction, whatever. Museums: in the smaller museums, many of the docents/guards did not speak English and others did (but, they always located a colleague who spoke English).

    Ease of getting around: very simple. I walked a lot and generally took two metros a day – once in the morning and once to get home. Trams and buses were easy to use. I had bought a laminated “Streetwise” map of Milan which showed the metro lines, but not the trams or buses so in Cadorna station, I bought a 3 euro map from a news kiosk that was semi-laminated and showed metro, bus and tram lines. That was invaluable since the metro system is good but somewhat limited; by using buses and trams too, it was easy to use public transportation to get close to wherever I needed to be. Generally, most street corners have the street names on them but sometimes the street names change and there are a lot of parks and circles where it can be hard to figure out the names. I admit that I got turned around more often than I would have expected; i’m old school and used to using maps, so it took me a while to remember to that I could use my smart phone for walking directions (literally, step by step). That saved the day several times when I was on the edge of getting really cranky. (Uses up the battery quickly though).

    People always ask me “how were the people” which I think is a goofy question. Everyone was helpful and polite.

    Would I go back? Hmm, not sure. I do feel like I’ve seen everything I wanted to see but I may need to re-stock my makeup and L’Erbolario products so could definitely envision spending a night or two in Milan before training to Bologna, Parma, etc. But, I will definitely recommend Milan to other people as a great destination!

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    Viva Milano!! We have been there a couple of times, maybe three in all, and will be passing through in early June. I have enjoyed my visits there, and wouldn't mind staying longer!

    Thanks for this very helpful trip report.

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    So glad that you shared stories about your time in Milan, vickie! Thank you! I will be rereading your trip report with pen in hand to make notes for our trip - so much good info! Like you, I am finding in my research that there is much to see & do in Milan. Thought of including a day trip in case we run out of things to do. But I am thinking that 4 days may not be enough!

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